Can You Wear a White Dress to a Wedding? 21 Essential Tips for Appropriate Guest Attire

can you wear white to a wedding article

Wedding dress codes and guest etiquette have changed a lot in the past few decades, but does that mean it’s now acceptable to wear white at a wedding? Can you wear a white dress to a wedding?

Avoiding white has long been the cardinal rule for all wedding guests to follow, but according to the Emily Post Institute, it’s now acceptable, as long as your outfit doesn’t look like a wedding dress — or pull attention away from the bride.

So, does that mean you can wear a strapless white cocktail dress? Can you wear a maxi dress with white lace? To help you navigate the tricky landscape of appropriate wedding guest attire, read on for our advice on how to wear white to a wedding without insulting the bride.

can you wear a white dress to a wedding 4 major faux pas to avoid

Can You Wear a White Dress to a Wedding? 4 Major Faux Pas to Avoid

Wearing white to a wedding may no longer be taboo, but that doesn’t mean just any outfit will do. There are still some essential etiquette rules to keep in mind.

Here are the four deal breakers when it comes to wearing white to a wedding.

1. Don’t wear white lace

While it’s true that not all brides wear white or lace to their weddings, more than 75 percent of brides do. So the odds of offending the bride are probably fairly high if you were to show up at the ceremony or reception in a white lace dress.

While wearing white to a wedding is acceptable, your dress should never compete with the bride’s and that means avoiding a dress like this. Even if your dress is not a traditional bridal shape, you should never, ever wear white lace. If your heart is set on a pale lace, try a dress in dusty pink, like this trumpet midi dress.

2. Don’t wear a white evening gown

If you’ve been invited to a white tie or black tie wedding, and you’re looking for the perfect evening gown, resist the urge to choose one that is predominantly white. Even a white evening gown with metallic embellishments (like this one) will put you in direct competition with the bride so opt for a gown where white does not take center stage. This floral, floor length gown is the perfect compromise.

3. Don’t wear solid white

Can you wear a white dress if it’s not floor-length and has no lace? Not if it’s solid white. A pure white dress will, once again, make it look like you’re competing with the bride. If you don’t want to steal her thunder, avoid wearing a solid white cocktail dress like this. Even though it doesn’t look like a wedding dress, wearing this much white is just not appropriate.

4. Don’t wear a strapless white dress

A strapless gown isn’t necessarily a no for a wedding — but if it’s white, it’s definitely the wrong choice. A good 50% of wedding gowns are both white and strapless, so there’s at least some chance that the bride will be wearing that type of gown.

To avoid looking like a bride yourself, opt for a gown that isn’t predominantly white like this tiered midi with its green floral print.

Understanding Dress Codes

Knowing the dos and don’ts of wearing white to a wedding is important, but so is dressing appropriately for the dress code. With appropriate attire ranging anywhere from an evening gown to a sundress, knowing which type of outfit to choose is crucial if you want to be appropriately outfitted. Here are the six main dress codes you can expect to see on an invitation.

White tie wedding

A white tie wedding is very rare simply because the expense of being properly attired is likely to deter guests from attending. 

If you do receive an invite to a white tie event, that means you’ll be expected to wear a floor-length evening gown. White tie is not only formal, but elegant and conservative, so avoid plunging necklines, high side slits and figure hugging fabrics when choosing a dress. 

Remember, if you plan to wear a white gown, you run the risk of looking like the bride, so choose your dress carefully. We recommend opting for a dress where white is an accent, not the main color to avoid offending the bridal couple. This dress, for instance, may not be a bridal gown, but it could be mistaken for one, making this sleek black and white gown a much better choice.

Black tie wedding

Not as strict as white tie weddings, black tie allows you to wear either a traditional evening gown or a cocktail dress. If you opt for a cocktail length, stick with a below-the-knee hemline. While stark white is off limits, even with a shorter length gown, you can certainly find a cocktail dress that incorporates white. 

While you should pass on an all-white dress like this, you can wear a patterned dress like this with confidence.

Formal or black tie optional wedding

Slightly more relaxed than black tie, you can choose between a floor-length evening gown or a cocktail dress with a hemline ranging from midi to a few inches above the knee. If you’re worried the dress is too short, it’s always better to err on the side of modesty than to wear something inappropriate. 

Again, stay away from a solid white dress. Even an above-the-knee cocktail dress like this could be mistaken for a wedding dress. Instead, choose a white dress with visual interest like this floral print. While this strapless dress would be a no-go if it featured white more prominently, it is totally appropriate in a busy floral where white takes a backseat.

Semi-formal weddings

One of the most popular dress codes for modern weddings, this style offers you a wide range of outfit options. You can choose from a cocktail dress, garden party dress, a dress and jacket ensemble, a jumpsuit or a fancy pantsuit. 

If you’re wearing an outfit that is mostly white, like this dress, it’s important to add some pops of color like a blue purse and shoes, a blue shrug, fancy cardigan or shawl and blue jewelry so you don’t look like you’re trying to compete with the bride. An easy way to avoid wearing too much white is to opt for a floral print with a white background, like this adorable chiffon dress.

Dressy casual weddings

This is another favorite style for modern weddings thanks to its slightly more relaxed dress code. A dressy casual event calls for a garden party dress, a semi-casual dress or a skirt and top ensemble. If you prefer pants, a jumpsuit also works well.

While you can get away with more white at a dressy casual wedding, head-to-toe white is still incredibly gauche. This pretty floral dress, for instance, is a better choice than wearing a solid white dress like this, no matter how chic.

Casual weddings

Casual weddings may not be as common as semi-formal or dressy casual affairs, but more and more couples are opting for this laid-back style. If you’re attending a casual wedding, you may already have something in your closet that would work. 

A pretty sundress, a maxi dress, a skirt and top or a jumpsuit are perfect. Just make sure you look put together — casual doesn’t equal sloppy. 

Remember, at a casual wedding the bride likely isn’t wearing a traditional wedding dress and may opt for a lacy boho maxi dress like this or even a shorter gown like this lace dress. That means solid white is off the table for guests. Instead, choose a sundress with a fun pattern like this polka dot frock.

What to Wear When No Dress Code is Stated

Now that you have a handle on wedding dress code styles, it’s time to tackle how you can wear white as a wedding guest — even if your wedding invitation doesn’t mention a dress code.

While you really can’t go wrong with wearing a knee-length cocktail dress, it can be safer to choose your outfit based on the hidden clues in your invitation. The time of the ceremony and location of the reception will often give you all the information you need to know to choose an appropriate dress

Here are six key wardrobe etiquette rules to keep in mind based on both time and location.

Daytime weddings

Weddings held before 6 p.m. are rarely formal and usually fall into the semi-formal to dressy casual range. Casual is less common, but still a possibility. If your invitation doesn’t indicate a dress code, always err on the side of being overdressed and go with a cocktail dress.

White is not always taboo, especially at daytime weddings where pretty floral and patterned dresses are a wedding guest outfit staple. So how much white is too much? As adorable as this gold-dotted white dress is, it’s probably a bit too much white for anyone but the bride to wear. This midi dress may have a white background, but the blue floral print keeps it from looking bridal, making it a great choice for a dressy casual daytime wedding, especially if paired with bright blue heels and a matching cardigan to ward off the chill.

Here are some lovely ways to incorporate white into your daytime wedding attire:

Semi-formal daytime wedding attire:

female white polka dot asymmetric midi skater dress
Available at Boohoo.com
white black midi belted cocktail dress etsy
Available at Etsy.com

Dressy casual daytime wedding attire:

white chaos cut out woven pencil dress karen millen
Available at Karenmillen.com
first blossoms white floral print halter maxi dress lulus
Available at Lulus.com

Casual daytime wedding attire:

ivory soft tailored flannel halter shirt dress karen millen
Available at Karenmillen.com
style that blooms white floral print tiered midi dress
Available at Lulus.com

Evening weddings

Evening weddings are almost always more formal than their daytime counterparts and that means choosing something elegant and dressy. 

While white tie is unlikely, dressing for a black tie optional event is a safe bet. That means you can get away with a fancy cocktail dress as long as it’s not too short. If the skirt is longer than your fingertips when you hold your arms straight down at your sides, you’re good to go. Just keep in mind that short, tighter fitting skirts will ride up when you sit down, so dresses with a-line or full skirts are best.

You can wear an evening gown but if you’re unsure how formal the reception will be, a cocktail dress is always a safer option. Whether you choose a short or long dress, be mindful that your gown will not upstage the bride by being too white. Dresses, like this one, featuring other colors in addition to white are your best option.

Here are some great examples of wedding-appropriate white dresses for each dress code.

White tie evening wedding attire:

landa designs k529 blue white print
Available at Landadesigns.com
mac duggal 26599 black and white dress new york dress
Available at Newyorkdress.com

Black tie evening wedding attire:

lauren ralph lauren sequin strip gown rent the runway
Available at Renttherunway.com
clifton embroidered tulle dress tadashi shoji
Available at Tadashishoji.com

Formal evening wedding attire:

romantic possibilities white floral print maxi dress lulus
Available at Lulus.com
embellished floral print faux wrap a line dress mac duggal
Available at Macduggal.com

Semi-formal evening wedding attire:

issue ny 11512 dress nyd newyorkdress
Available at Newyorkdress.com
elle zeitoune yasmin dress rent the runway
Available at Renttherunway.com

Church weddings

Church weddings are no place for short skirts or plunging necklines. Instead, choose a dress that is equal parts modest and sophisticated. A formal church wedding will require either a cocktail dress or an evening dress while less formal weddings require a garden party dress or a fancy skirt and top. 

If you’re attending a ceremony at a Catholic church, it’s also a good idea to make sure your shoulders are covered and your neckline is very modest. Even at a less traditional church, it’s always better to wear a modest outfit than show too much skin.

If you’re wearing white, make sure your dress does not resemble a bridal gown in any way. Here are some great outfit examples to serve as inspiration.

great jones polka dot ruffle sleeve dress rent the runway
Available at Renttherunway.com
love bomb sapphire amira smocked floral dress sugarlips
Available at Sugarlips.com

Beach weddings

A beach ceremony is almost always dressy casual or casual. If a dress code isn’t stated on your invitation, a pretty maxi dress or sundress will serve you well. Keep in mind, however, that the bride may also be wearing a maxi dress rather than a traditional wedding gown, so steer clear of white lace dresses.

Here are some cute examples to have you ceremony-ready.

better than friends maxi dress lilac hellomolly
Available at Hellomolly.com
another day in paradise tropicle print ruched midi dress white black sugarlips
Available at Sugarlips.com

Garden weddings

A garden wedding is all about ladylike attire. When choosing a dress, why not go ultra-feminine with pretty florals or patterns? While garden weddings are a great time for white, avoid anything too lacy or frilly so you won’t look like the bride.

Here are some good examples to get you started.

sereia wrap midi dress white garden gingham and heels
Available at Ginghamandheels.com
cadence midi dress blue floral balticborn
Available at Balticborn.com

Country weddings

Does a country wedding mean super casual? Not necessarily. While you might associate jeans with heading to the country, that doesn’t mean you should wear a denim dress to a wedding. No matter where the ceremony is being held, the dress code is likely to range from semi-formal to dressy casual.

Yes, casual is an option, but unless your invite specifically says to dress casually, it’s better to choose a fancier outfit. Remember, it’s always better to be overdressed at a wedding than underdressed.

A pretty floral or gingham dress with a white background or hints of white should serve you well for country nuptials. And don’t forget to choose shoes that are comfortable for walking over uneven ground.

bailey eyelet maxi dress white balticborn
Available at Balticborn.com
cielle off shoulder midi dress verana floral gingham and heels
Available at Ginghamandheels.com

White Wedding Attire FAQ

Once you have your dress picked out, it’s time to start thinking about the finishing touches to your outfit. Not sure how to style your white dress? We’ve got you covered. Read on for all of our style advice on looking your best as a wedding guest.

What color of shoes go with a white dress?

While white shoes would be overkill with a white dress at a wedding, you can’t go wrong with nude or metallic footwear. Nude is lovely for daytime weddings and metallics perfect for evening nuptials.

The other option is to pick a color from your outfit to match. If, for instance, you’re wearing a white dress with a blue and green pattern, finding heels in a similar hue of blue or green will really make that color pop out on your dress.

What color of pantyhose should I wear with a white dress?

Unless you’re attending a beach or backyard wedding, or are wearing a long dress where your legs aren’t visible, wearing pantyhose or stockings will make your look much more elegant. Not convinced? Check out the Princess of Wales (Kate Middleton) if you need some convincing.

With a white dress, ultra sheer nude stockings are perfect. Not only do they give the illusion of a bare leg, they also hide any flaws and keep your feet protected from blisters in your heels. If you’re wearing a black and white dress, sheer black hose are also an elegant choice.

What color of undergarments do I wear with a white dress?

While wearing white underwear may seem like the natural choice under a white dress, nothing could be further from the truth.

Instead, opt for nude bras and panties (which will differ depending on your skin tone). The key is to match your bra and panties as closely to your skin as possible to have them disappear under your dress. Lace, seaming, beading, or other embellishments should also be avoided to achieve a smooth line under your outfit.

If your dress is unlined or comes in a light or slightly sheer fabric, you may want to consider wearing a skin-colored slip underneath as well. The best way to determine if you do need a slip is to stick your hand under the dress. If you can see your hand, then you should wear a slip.

Remember to choose a slip that is two inches shorter than the hemline of your dress for a no-show look.

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